Purpose Residency is a very stressful time that affecting all aspects of life, including significant relationships. Our objective was to investigate house staff and their significant others' perceptions of challenges along with what has helped them as a couple during residency.
Methods During a retreat addressing stress in residency 29 internal medicine house staff and their significant others were asked to independently write responses to the following question: What are your most significant challenges as a couple during residency and what has helped with these challenges? Using qualitative methods two raters independently examined responses for themes.
Results Major challenge themes included time (83%), especially couple's time (43%), sharing of domestic responsibilities (33%), decreased contact with family/friends (22%), fatigue/irritability (22%), and work/home boundary issues (20%). Less prevalent (< 10%) were financial, communication, and adjusting to a new location. Helpful strategies included planning (57%), especially couple's time (38%), communication (38%), seeking support from family/friends (26%), and strength of the relationship (24%). Less prevalent (< 10%) were faith/religion, psychological help, and financial help.
Conclusions Limited time appeared to be the major challenge to couples. Common challenges to residents in general such as financial or relocation were much less prevalent. To help overcome challenges, couples primarily worked together using planning, communication, and drawing on the strength of the relationship. Other than support of families/friends, couples reported little utilization of outside resources. Efforts tailored to help couples spend more quality time together as well as facilitating access to outside resources may be beneficial in reducing stress experienced during residency.